Slugger O'Toole

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DRD settles for #NIWater with an apology to Declan Gormley…

Thu 21 February 2013, 6:19pm

niw_logoSo, we are nearing the end of the story of one of the sacked directors of Northern Ireland Water, Declan Gormley. The implications of this are pretty unequivocal. But before further detailed comment over to the Minister, who stated this afternoon that…

…in March 2010 some of the non-executive directors of Northern Ireland Water Limited, including Mr. Declan Gormley were dismissed from the board of that company by the then Minister for Regional Development, Mr Conor Murphy. The Department was the sole shareholder in the company.

Whilst this is regretted, it would now be impracticable for the situation to be reversed.

Notwithstanding this the Department categorically acknowledges that Mr Gormley was not guilty of any personal wrongdoing or misconduct in his role as non-executive director of Northern Ireland Water. The Department further acknowledges that his removal from office did not reflect adversely in any respect on his character or integrity.

The Department has now apologised to Mr Gormley and has agreed to pay his costs. Mr Gormley has accepted the apology, which is all that he wished to secure from this litigation. Accordingly the matter is now closed.”

The plaintiff will not receive any damages but the Department will pay the plaintiff’s reasonable costs to date.

I suspect with such an admission from the Department the other sacked directors may now also be considering their options viz a viz some similar form of public apology. The report of the so-called Independent Review Team in no justified the sacking of any of the Non Executive Directors, and in fact (though not for the want of trying) no one on the executive team was discharged.

It’s a fitting end to the story of man who seems to have done nothing more than dispute the nature of some minutes taken by the Independent Review Team who came in to review NI Water’s performance over single action tenders.

It won’t have endeared Mr Gormley to the powers-that-be in Stormont (aka the permanent government). Nor Sinn Fein, whose former Minister Conor Murphy now resides in the equivalent of an Adamsian Siberia (holding a senior representatives office at Westminster, but with only the salary his party choose to pay him), presumably for the sin of making the party look bad.

That’s unfortunate. Whilst there is no doubt Mr Murphy took what he thought was a golden political opportunity to lay down a marker for those interests both inside and out the department interested in any privatised Northern Ireland Water, the proof he took from his senior civil servants that the Board was guilty of any wrong doing was threadbare to non existent. If he was at fault in any capacity here, it was in trusting the advice he was given.

Such wrongdoing as there may be must be laid at the door of the Department, who’s flawed decision making processes were at times laid out in painfully forensic detail here on Slugger. It’s clear too that the Board, from the beginning, completely unsighted on the issue of the single tender actions, and much else besides. It’s also clear that the now displaced Permanent Secretary had something of an unconventional style to him which was to later land him in historically hot water.

This is a very rare case of the small man taking on a big vested interest and winning. Others will point out that as a businessman Declan Gormley had more resources at this disposal than the average whistle-blower. Perhaps, but such resources are not infinite, when playing civil servants have spent an inordinate amount of public money in order to, in that immortal phrase, make the problem go away. Mr Gormley played an intelligent game from the start, using the channels that were open to him honestly and decently. He was determined enough to see matters through to the end.

In the process however, we were treated to an unedifying view of the way that things are done in the administration of government in Northern Ireland. Do spare a thought for Conor Murphy though. DRD was and remains a tough gig. In Northern Ireland Water he had a government owned organisation with probably the largest single industrial plant base of any utility (publicly or privately owned) in Northern Ireland, and contracting element with the private sector way about most others of his colleagues.

Mr Murphy may now regret rejecting the approaches made to him through party colleagues almost at the start of this story. In the wake of this long and at times lonely quest (by those brave and tenacious journalists who took the trouble to search under the governmental bonnet). There are many questions to be raised about ‘the way things are done’.

But more details to follow on that tomorrow. In the meantime, we should all be grateful that Mr Gormley took time and the effort to recover his own good name. Too many before him have (for understandable reasons allowed themselves to be picked off one by one, and cowed by “shame, stigma, silence and secrecy”.

Mr Gormley by showing there can be consequences to wrong actions, may have done this fledgling jurisdiction some service. And to complete my hacked quotation, “they know it, no more of that”. Illegitimi non carborundum.

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Comments (10)

  1. son of sam (profile) says:

    Mick
    Are you aware if Sinn Fein have lodged any appeal against the findings of the Court in December last year?

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  2. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    And yet here we are in 2013 and Mr Gormley had to take court action to prove his integrity and honour. That is a disgraceful state of affairs, when all along he has reiterated that he tried to address the injustice through the correct channels.

    The NIAO are now belatedly trying to establish some type independence with their review of how DRD treated a whistleblower, whilst calling for a civil service run investigation team…
    http://www.niauditoffice.gov.uk/index/publications/recent_reports/drd_whistleblower.pdf

    Still, I’m sure Paul Priestly is not feeling too bad in his new role SIB…

    Congratulations Mr Gormley…

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  3. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    Too many before him have (for understandable reasons allowed themselves to be picked off one by one, and cowed by “shame, stigma, silence and secrecy”.

    So you are blaming the victims of Government cover -ups… Nice work Mick…

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  4. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    Ex Minister Murphy spaketh

    “I have made it clear in correspondence with the Department in recent weeks my opposition to settling this case in these terms and it is clear that no apology has been made on my behalf.

    “Mr Kennedy’s decision yesterday to refuse to answer questions on his decision making around these cases in front of the Assembly committee, denying his Assembly colleagues the chance to properly scrutinise his actions, says much about his approach to date on these matters.
    http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/25761#.USY0WlJvXhQ.twitter

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  5. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    PT, that was a poor choice of words.

    ‘Allowing’ does attribute inaction to the victims. I don’t blame people for not standing up, since it entails standing up against some very big fish in a very small pool.

    I also didn’t mean to imply that everyone has the means to take on and win against a whole government department.

    “shame, stigma, silence and secrecy” was a crib from elsewhere, but they aptly describe what often frightens people into conforming over things that they might otherwise call wrong.

    As for the former minister, this looks like covering fire. The department has frittered something £8 million in legal fees and payments over the last four years. In this regard, he’s barely finished criticising his successor for the manner in which he cleared up another of Mr Murphy’s messes.

    No doubt he’s angling to get the same sort of legal advice someone in the Executive [ahem] leaked to Mr Murphy over the Aaron Lennon case. Sally Wheeler of QUB’s explains in Barry McCaffrey’s piece for the Detail yesterday makes a telling point in this regard:

    “Privilege is not a reason for a client not to disclose material,” she said. “Privilege means that something does not have to be disclosed.

    “It is the client’s choice (Mr Kennedy) whether to disclose something and in fact material can be disclosed on a confidential basis to a group of people and still retain the status of ‘privileged’ against the rest of the world.

    “If he did that and confidentiality was broken then he might lose privilege on that material.

    “Mr Kennedy could disclose this material if he wished, but he can’t be made to do so, as the material is covered by litigation privilege or legal advice privilege.

    My guess is that Mr Kennedy is keeping his counsel to himself for fear that privilege once again be broken in order to cast doubt over his judgement. But the truth this is not Danny Kennedy’s mess to clear up.

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    sos,

    Sam McBride did a piece on it a few weeks back. The time limit is up, so they’ve accepted that they and two of their MLAs did commit a malicious libel.

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  7. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    No they have decided not to appeal it… One can only appeal on a point of law ….Costs are a BIG issue…

    Yet the statutes of limitations on criminal grounds may still be open…

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  8. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/misconduct_in_public_office/

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  9. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    Apology accepted Mick… Ta… But surely the DRD reviews/investigations are coming up non-conformance?

    Time for further sampling? That’s how auditing works..

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  10. streetlegal (profile) says:

    Conor Murphy is the poster boy for that peculiar blend of arrogance and incompetence which characterises the Stormont Executive. Fortunately Sinn Fein saw fit to remove Mr Murphy from office. But there are many arrogant and incompetent ministers still sitting around the Executive table.

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